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January 25, 2012

ipadAh, yes, here we go again. Yet another corporate shill (or Schill, in this case) stands before the populus with a somber look, declaring that the U.S. education system ranks whatever-th globally (in test-taking on an uneven playing field constructed to bolster the careers of politicians who lack the temerity to take on real issues - but that's another post). Next, a few heart-warming videos play, followed by a wonderful - dare I say "magical" solution to the problem devised by said corporation, which, as they desperately hope you will believe, truly cares about education. Who are we to doubt their sincerity? This must be true, right?

But wait a minute - are we perhaps being sold? Are we giving Apple a pass because we love their products so? Are we giving up too much just because the solution seems so simple? Or worse, do we really believe that better textbooks are the answer to all of education's woes? Rather than just hoping for the best and assuming Apple's intentions are pure, let's instead take a step back and try to understand a few key truths about corporations. More ...

Posted by Jim Klein | 34 comment(s) | Share This

January 19, 2012

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is always one of the largest and most anticipated events in computing, devices, and electronic gadgetry, and CES 2012 was no exception. But with all the focus on Smartbooks, Smart TVs, Smart Appliances, and tablets of all shapes and sizes, it's easy to see why news of other device classes might get drowned out by all the noise. Add to that a gap in manufacturing created by hard drive shortages, a next-generation processor transition, and delays in Microsoft certification, and it's easy to understand why it might be hard to find good information on upcoming devices in our favorite product class - namely netbooks and mini-notebooks. But fear not, for a plethora of exciting devices are slated to arrive in the coming months. More ...

Posted by Jim Klein | 24 comment(s) | Share This

May 13, 2011


Please Note: This post is now obsolete. All of my Nook Color resources can now be found on my Nook Color Resources pages under Wiki Pages (to the right). 

The Nook Color is already an awesome little tablet, especially for those of us who have freed ours by rooting them. And with the most recent 1.2 update from Barnes & Noble, things got even better with the addition of Flash support and speed improvements brought on by Android 2.2 (Froyo). Unfortunately, a non-wonky root kit for 1.2 has yet to appear, so the only way to gain access to all that the Android community has to offer, including Google apps and the Android Market, has been to make major sacrifices in user experience. 

But what if you could actually make your Nook Color even better by completely replacing the Barnes & Noble software with a state-of-the-art Android install, giving you all the goodness of Android, without sacrificing any of the awesome ereader capabilities of the Nook Color (like access to magazine subscriptions - a particular sticking point for me)? Thankfully, now you can! Note: I have been informed that the interactive Nook Kids books don't yet work with the Android app, so if these are important to you, you might want to stick with stock Nook 1.2.

Enter CyanogenMod, a build of Android that works beautifully on the Nook Color. CyanogenMod is a custom build of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with a stellar user experience, including a number of enhancements that really shine on the Nook Color. And, when combined with yesterday's upgrade to Barnes & Noble's Nook app, you don't have to sacrifice any of the features of your Nook to enjoy all of CyanogenMod's Android goodness.

So if you are ready to turn your Nook Color into an even more Awesome Android tablet (and tease all your iPad toting friends for spending twice as much money for a device that can't even run Flash), follow these steps:

Note: there is no risk in doing this - you can easily restore your Nook to stock Barnes & Noble software if you decide you don't like it. See Restoring your Nook Color to Stock 1.2 at the bottom of this post for instructions.


Part 1 - Gathering all the pieces you'll need

Aside from a Nook Color, you'll need to pick up a microSD card and an appropriate adapter (like this one) so that you can plug it in to your computer. Most computers and laptops have an SDcard slot (often referred to as a Multi-card reader), but if yours doesn't, be sure to get a USB to SDCard adapter as well (like this one). USB to SDCard adapters may be a little tricky to find in stock at a local store - I've had the best luck at office supply stores like OfficeDepot and OfficeMax. Keep in mind that you'll be using the microSD card to store music, video, and pictures on, so be sure to select one that is of sufficient size (at least 1 gb). Note that an average, feature length movie (don't worry, I'll tell you just how to encode your own from a DVD below) will require about 800 Megabytes (roughly 0.8 Gigabytes) of space. 

Also, the setup process seems to work best if your Nook already has at least version 1.2 of the Barnes & Noble software on it. You can find out if you are running version 1.2 by tapping the up arrow, then Settings:Device Info. If you have 1.1 or earlier, you can either update your stock Nook Color using Barnes & Noble's instructions here, or you can update any Nook Color (stock or rooted) to 1.2 by following my instructions, Restoring your Nook Color to Stock 1.2 at the bottom of this post.

Finally, make sure your Nook Color has a good charge before you get started. In fact, you might want to plug it in now while you work on the next part.


Part 2 - Downloading the software installer and preparing the microSD card

Grab your microSD card and adapter, and head over to your computer to download the following file:


Now, we'll copy the image to our microSD card. Follow the instructions below:


  1. These instructions assume you are using Mac OS X Leopard. If you are using another version of OS X, details may differ slightly. 
  2. Determine where the nook-cm7-install.zip file was saved when you downoaded it from the web site. Macs usually store downloaded files in the "Downloads" folder, which is in your home folder. Firefox often saves downloads in the Desktop. Move the nook-cm7-install.zip file to your home folder and double-click on it once to extract the nook-cm7-install.img file from the zip file.
  3. If you have a newer MacBook with an SDCard slot, insert your SDCard adapter with the microSD card in the slot. Otherwise, insert the SDCard adapter with the microSD card in the USB SDCard adapter you purchased, then plug that into one of the USB ports on your Mac.
  4. Switch to the Finder and open the "Utilities" folder (Go -> Utilities)
  5. Open "Disk Utility"
  6. When Disk Utility opens, locate your microSD card in the panel on the left of the window. You will see two items in the list: the card itself ("Lexar" in the example below - yours will probably be different), and the volume that exists on the key ("usb_disk" in the example below - yours will probably be different). Ctrl-click on the volume ("usb_disk on the example - yours will be different) and select "Unmount"
  7. Close the Disk Utility, and Open "Terminal" in the "Utilities" window
  8. Type "diskutil list" in the terminal window, and look for your microSD card in the list. The detail we are looking for is which device it is ("/dev/disk2" in the example below)
  9. Once you have determined which device it is, type in the following: "sudo dd if=nook-cm7-install.img of=/dev/diskX" replacing the "diskX" with the disk number from step 8. When the command completes, your microSD card will be ready to go.


  1. Download win32disk imager from https://launchpad.net/win32-image-writer/+download
  2. Locate the zip file you just downloaded, right-click on it, and choose "Extract" to extract the application from the zip file. Do the same for the nook-cm7-install.zip file you downloaded earlier.
  3. Locate the W32DiskImager.exe file you extracted, and double-click to run the application
  4. Select the nook-cm7-install.img file you extracted above.
  5. Insert your microSD card with any appropriate adapters into your PC
  6. Click on the refresh button on the right under "Device", and then select the drive letter of your microSD card
  7. Click on the "Write" button and wait until the operation completes.


  1. Determine where the nook-cm7-install.zip file was saved when you downoaded it from the web site. It should be in the root of your Home folder. If not, move it there and double-click on it to unzip it.
  2. Insert your microSD card into all appropriate adapters and plug it in to your computer. Most Linux systems will automatically mount the card.
  3. We need to find out what disk the system assigned to the card. To do so, open up a terminal (usually under "Accessories") and type "mount" followed by the enter key. In the list of disks that appear, you should see your microSD card at the bottom, listed as "/dev/sd*1" where * is probably a,b,c,or d. 
  4. Next, unmount the microSD card by typing "umount /dev/sdX1" (replacing "X" with the letter you saw in the list on step 3)
  5. Finally, type in "sudo dd if=nook-cm7-install.img of=/dev/sdX" followed by the enter key, replacing the "sdX" with "sd"+the letter you determined in step 3. When the command completes, your microSD card will be ready to go.

WHEW! That was the hard part. The rest is pretty easy.


Part 3 - Updating the Nook Color to CyanogenMod

Now we'll boot the Nook Color off of the microSD card and install the software. To do this, we need to power it down, insert the microSD card, and power it back up. Hold down the power button and wait until the Nook offers you the option to shut down, then choose "OK" to shut it off. Then turn the nook over and open the "Nook" flap to insert your microSD card. Next, turn the Nook back over and hold down the power button for a few seconds (until you see the screen flash) to turn the Nook on. 

OK, your Nook Color is going to boot into recovery mode, which will probably be unlike any you have ever seen. While in recovery mode, the touchscreen is not used - instead, we'll use all of the buttons on the Nook to navigate. The volume up/down buttons go up and down in the list, the "n" button selects an item, and the power button goes back to the previous menu. Follow these steps to install the update:

  1. Press the volume down button to select "install zip from sdcard" and press the "n" button to select
  2. Press the volume down button to select "choose zip from sdcard" and press the "n" button to select
  3. Press the volume up/down buttons to select the cm-7.1.0-RC0-encore-2.6.32-beta3.1.zip from the list, and press the "n" button to select
  4. Choose "Yes" to install, and wait for the install to complete. Will be a few minutes
  5. When done, press the power button to go back to the main menu, select "Wipe data/factory reset", and press the "n" button to select. Choose "Yes" to wipe data, and wait for the process to complete.  Important: You MUST wipe data on your Nook Color, or it probably will not work correctly when you restart it, which means you'll have to come back and wipe data anyway. Trust me: wipe your data.
  6. When done, remove the microSD card and select "reboot system now", and press the "n" button to reboot. If your Nook Color is unresponsive, hold down the power button until it turns off, then power it up normally.

After a brief period, your Nook Color will boot up from CyanogenMod, and all will be right with the world. Take note of a few things:

  1. At the bottom left corner you will find a few standard Android buttons, which are necessary to navigate. In order, they are menu, back, search, and notifications. The physical "n" button is still the home button. If you are new to Android, the menu button is of particular importance, as it is context sensitive, meaning what it shows changes depending on what you are looking at. Many new users find themselves lost and not knowing what to do next, because they forget that the menu button is there. A simple rule of thumb is this: when in doubt, try the menu button.
  2. Swiping left and right will bring up additional "pages" or "desktops" that you can place widgets or icons on. Press and hold with your finger on any blank space to add an icon or widget. Press and hold on an existing icon or widget to remove it.
  3. At the bottom center of the display, you will see a mini-dock with a phone, box of four smaller boxes (apps button), and a globe (web browser) The phone really doesn't do anything, since this isn't a phone, but you can replace it by press and hold, choose delete, press the apps button, and press+drag something else into its place. 


Part 4 - Google Apps, settings, and stuff to do right away

OK, so your Nook Color is ready to go, but you'll need a few more things to finish the job. First, we need to connect to wireless and get the Google apps installed, especially Market, because that's where you'll go to get all the other apps. To connect to wireless:

  1. Go to the home screen (press the "n" button) and press the menu button (far-left on the bottom left corner). 
  2. Tap "Settings" followed by "Wireless & networks", then "Wi Fi Settings" to select your wireless network. Follow the prompts to set up your connection.
  3. Once you are connected, press the "n" button to return to the home screen.

Next, we'll install the Google applications:

  1. Tap on the apps button on the home screen and open ROM Manager.
  2. Check the "Flash ClockworkMod Recovery" at the top of the list and make sure that it says "Current Recovery: ClockworkMod". If it doesn't, tap "Flash ClockworkMod Recover" and select "Nook Color" in the list that appears.
  3. Tap Download ROM, followed by Google Apps, then tap on the top-most entry in the list and tap Download.
  4. When the download is complete, you will be presented with a "ROM Pre-Installation" prompt. Don't change anything, just tap OK.
  5. Press OK to Reboot and Install. If prompted by SuperUser about permissions, tap "Allow". Your Nook will reboot and install the Google apps all by itself. When complete, it will reboot again. The reboot will be a little slow this time, as it will rebuild the cache.
  6. You may be prompted with a list of Google apps. Be sure to select Market, YouTube, and any other Google apps you find interesting. If you aren't prompted, no worries, Market will be there and you can install any other apps you might want from there.

We're almost done. Now that you have all the critical apps in place, there are just a few things that you'll want to do before you start playing:

  1. Set the unhide button: When running a full-screen app, the button bar (menu, back, search, notifications) will add a fifth button, hide (represented by a couple of down arrows). CyanogenMod's default settings make it hard to get the button bar back when you hide it, so we'll want to change them. To do so, press the home button (the "n" button on your Nook), then the menu button (first button in the bottom left corner), and choose "Settings". Next tap "CyanogenMod Settings" followed by "Tablet Tweaks", then "Choose unhide button". Finally, choose "Home" from the list that appears. When you are done, you can press the home button to return to the main screen.
  2. Format your SD card: Many Android apps require a microSD card to work, so you'll want to be sure you have one in your Nook at all times. The problem is, if the card you want to use is the same one that you used to install CyanogenMod, then the recovery console will appear every time you reboot your Nook. To solve this problem, we'll want to erase the microSD card. To do this, insert the microSD card and press the home button (the "n" button on your Nook), then the menu button (first button in the bottom left corner), and then choose "Settings". Next press "Storage" followed by the "Erase SD Card" at the very top (under "SD Card"). Do not choose "Erase SD Card" under the "Additional storage: /mnt/emmc" heading, just the one under the "SD Card" heading.
  3. Make the Nook stay awake when plugged in: Default settings in this build of CyanogenMod set the Nook to go to sleep when it is plugged in. This can be a problem when you have it plugged into a computer and are copying files to/from it, as sleep will interrupt the process. To fix this, press the home button (the "n" button on your Nook), then the menu button (first button in the bottom left corner), and then choose "Settings". Next choose "Applications", then "Development" then check the "Stay Awake" checkbox.
  4. Install Flash Player: CyanogenMod doesn't have the latest Flash Player installed on it. Be sure to open the Market app, search for and install the Flash Player app. Once installed, Flash content on web pages and in apps should play properly.
  5. Install the Nook app: Like the Flash player, the Nook app is essential. Go find and install from the Market app on your Nook. Once installed, run the app and log in to your Barnes & Noble account. All your books and magazines will be there.


Part 5 - Go get some apps!

There are a few apps out there that you must have to round out your Nook Color experience.

First off, you must go to the Market on your Nook Color and download Angry Birds. Not only is it a great game, but it really shows off the Nook's screen. All of the graphics appear super-crisp and sharp at 169 ppi screen. Other great games include Bubble BlastLabyrinth, and Flight Frenzy.

Social media types will want to install the official Facebook and Twitter apps, or perhaps something like Seesmic, if you like to have all your social streams integrated into one app. Bloggers will appreciate the Wordpress app, among others. Be sure to check the AppBrain site for the latest and greatest.

Media lovers should install the Amazon MP3 app, so that they can purchase and listen to songs on the go. And the one that every media-loving Android user should have is Doubletwist. Doubletwist is like iTunes for Android, including a desktop app for your Mac or PC and a player application for your Nook Color. The desktop app connects directly to your iTunes and iPhoto libraries, as well as any music/movie folders you might have and enables easy syncing of your content to your Nook Color. It will even automatically resize your un-protected videos prior to syncing (although there is a better way to deal with video below). And if you install the optional Airsync app on your Nook, you don't even have to plug it in to sync your content. Your Nook Color and Doubletwist app on your desktop will just find each other. Doubletwist also connects to Amazon's music store, so you can download all the music you might want directly. 



Encoding Video

The last must-have app is Handbrake, which you will use to encode video on your desktop machine. Handbrake enables you to convert video from a variety of formats, including direct from DVD, into a format that the Nook can easily play. The trick with Handbrake is figuring out what settings are best for a particular device. Lucky for you I've already done this for the Nook Color. Note that Hadbrake will not convert any videos that you have purchased on iTunes, as these are copy protected and only work with Apple devices.

When using Handbrake to encode video from a DVD or other (un-protected) video file, set Handbrake up as follows:

On the main page, set the Video Codec to "MPEG-4", check the "2-pass encoding" box, and set the "Average bitrate" to "1000", as you see below:



Next, click on "Audio" and set the first track to a bitrate of "128", then disable any other tracks you see:



Finally, click the "Picture" button and set the width to "512" (the height will adjust automatically).


Press Start and your video will encode. When it is done, plug your Nook Color into your computer using the supplied USB cable, and copy the video to your microSD card.

Please note: Some DVDs (Disney is particularly notorious) employ some particularly intrusive copy protection techniques that Handbrake can't overcome. For these, first force quit Handbrake, then get an app like RipIt, which will enable you to get a stable version of the video files off the DVD prior to using Handbrake.


Last Step - Enjoy your newly liberated Nook Color!


Update: For the truly adventurous, I have added an overclock kernel to the update that will boost the speed of your Nook Color from 800MHz to 1200MHz, with no discernible cost in battery life. To install it, follow the steps in Parts 1, 2, and 3 above and make sure everything is working. Then repeat the first six steps in Part 3, but instead of selecting "cm-7.1.0-RC0-encore-2.6.32-beta3.1.zip" in step 3, select "overclock-kernel-cm7-dalingren-2.6.32-emmc-051311.zip". Once your Nook Color reboots, you should notice a marked improvement in performance. 

Note: If you downloaded and installed this update prior to 5/22/11, the image file has been updated since you downloaded it. You will need to re-download and re-image your microSD to see the overclock kernel.


Restoring your Nook Color to Stock 1.2

If you experience problems, or you decide you don't like CyanogenMod (ie, you're crazy ;-) ), you can easily restore your Nook to stock (and retry the update, if you so choose) by following these steps:

Note: if you downloaded and installed the update prior to 6/1/11, you will need to re-download the updated image file and re-image your microSD card using the steps in parts 1 & 2 above before following these steps.

  1. Hold down the power button on your Nook and power it off. Then, insert the microSD card you imaged in Part 2, and power it back on.
  2. Press the volume down button to select "install zip from sdcard" and press the "n" button to select
  3. Press the volume down button to select "choose zip from sdcard" and press the "n" button to select
  4. Press the volume up/down buttons to select update-nc-stock-1.2-keepcwm-signed.zip from the list, and press the "n" button to select
  5. Choose "Yes" to install, and wait for the install to complete. Will be a few minutes
  6. When done, press the power button to go back to the main menu, select "Wipe data/factory reset", and press the "n" button to select. Choose "Yes" to wipe data, and wait for the process to complete. Important: You MUST wipe data on your Nook Color, or it will not boot when you restart it, and will require a bunch of extra steps to recover. Trust me: wipe your data.
  7. When done, select "reboot system now", and press the "n" button to reboot. If your Nook Color is unresponsive, hold down the power button until it turns off, then power it up normally.

Once your Nook has restarted, you'll be back to Barnes & Noble stock software. Note that it will operate as if it were brand new. You will have to re-register with Barnes and Noble and go through their setup process.

More ...

Keywords: Nook, Nook Color

Posted by Jim Klein | 47 comment(s) | Share This

May 05, 2011

A week or so ago, Barnes and Noble released a significant update to the Nook Color, version 1.2. This version offers a number of enhancements, including updates to Android (Froyo), the addition of Flash in the web browser, and a new app store for B & N sanctioned applications (roughly 130 of them - mostly non-free). If you are using a rooted Nook Color, there are a few things you should know before proceeding with an upgrade to 1.2:

  • At this time there is not a good root kit for version 1.2. The kits that are available are still very buggy and/or difficult to use - difficult enough as to prevent me from recommending any or provide instructions.
  • The only real upgrade path at the moment is to restore your Nook Color to a stock (non-rooted) version of the Nook Color software. This means that, while you will be able to use the new features of Nook Color 1.2, you will not have access to Market, Google Applications, or any of the other benefits of a rooted Nook Color.
  • In order to apply the upgrade, ALL DATA must be wiped from the Nook Color. This does not include the SD card, just the internal storage. You will lose any apps you have installed, and any books/magazines/etc you have subscribed to will have to be redownloaded (for free - B & N will not double-charge you).

If you are OK with these conditions, proceed with the following steps. If not, then please be patient - I'm sure a good Nook Color root will be out soon.

Part 1 - Download the files you will need

For this install, we're going to need an application called Rom_Manager and a stock 1.2 zip file that contains the update we want. Download the following files on your computer:

Next, plugin your Nook Color to your computer using the cable provided by Barnes & Noble. The Nook should automatically mount both its internal storage and the installed microSD card under My Computer (Windows), Finder (MacOS), or Nautilus File Manager (Linux). Locate the two files you just downloaded and copy both files to the microSD card on your Nook. The microSD card is fairly easy to identify, it will be the removable device that IS NOT named "media". For example, on a Mac, the microSD card will probably be names "NO NAME" (unless you renamed it somewhere along the way). Once you have copied the files, eject both the Nook (media) and microSD card properly (check your operating system's online help if you don't know how to do this) and unplug the Nook.

Now we need to install a file manager app, so that we can find the files we just downloaded on the Nook. I like OI File Manager for this. On your Nook, tap the up-arrow at the bottom, then Market, then the search button (at the top - looks like a magnifying glass), and search for "OI File Manager". Install the app once you locate it. When this is done, either restart your Nook (hold down the power button and power off, then power back up) or use Advanced Task Killer (see my prior post) to kill the "com.bn.nook.applauncher".

Now that that's complete, your ready to get started installing the software.

Part 2 - Install ClockworkMod Recovery

Note: If you have installed an overclock kernel on your Nook Color according to my prior instructions, skip to step 7

  1. Tap the up-arrow at the bottom, then Extras, and then tap on NookColor Tools
  2. At the top, you will see a checkbox titled "Allow Non-Market Apps. If it isn't already checked, tap to check it. If it is checked, tap to uncheck it, then tap to check it again. Trust me, this sounds silly, but I have seen instances where the box is checked, but the Nook doesn't seem to know it :)
  3. Next, tap the up arrow at the bottom again, and tap Extras, followed by OI File Manager
  4. Locate "ROM_Manager.apk" and tap to install it.
  5. Restart your Nook or kill the launcher app again, so that ROM_Manager will appear in Extras
  6. Tap the up-arrow, then Extras, then ROM_Manager
  7. Tap Flash ClockworkMod Recovery and choose "Nook Color" when prompted to confirm phone model. Note that the version should be 3.0.2.x 
  8. When this is complete, tap Reboot into Recovery

Part 3 - Flash the Stock 1.2 zip file and Wipe All Data

OK, your Nook Color is going to reboot into recovery mode, which will probably be unlike any you have ever seen. While in recovery mode, the touchscreen is not used - instead, we'll use all of the buttons on the Nook to navigate. The volume up/down buttons go up and down in the list, the "n" button selects an item, and the power button goes back to the previous menu. Follow these steps to install the update:

  1. Press the volume down button to select "install zip from sdcard" and press the "n" button to select
  2. Press the volume down button to select "choose zip from sdcard" and press the "n" button to select
  3. Press the volume up/down buttons to select update-nc-stock-1.2-keepcwm-signed.zip from the list, and press the "n" button to select
  4. Choose "Yes" to install, and wait for the install to complete. Will be a few minutes
  5. When done, press the power button to go back to the main menu, select "Wipe data/factory reset", and press the "n" button to select. Choose "Yes" to wipe data, and wait for the process to complete.  Important: You MUST wipe data on your Nook Color, or it will not boot when you restart it, and will require a bunch of extra steps to recover. Trust me: wipe your data.
  6. When done, select "reboot system now", and press the "n" button to reboot. If your Nook Color is unresponsive, hold down the power button until it turns off, then power it up normally.

Once your Nook has restarted, the upgrade will be complete! Note that it will operate as if it were brand new. You will have to re-register with Barnes and Noble and go through the entire setup process.

Keywords: Android, Nook, Nook Color, Root

Posted by Jim Klein | 13 comment(s) | Share This

May 04, 2011

The following is a statement written for our district superintendent to share with those who would lead at SUSD. We are on the cusp of a significant transition in the district, as we look to replace two out of four of our top leaders - our superintendent and asst. superintendent of business. It is my hope that those who would lead would endeavor to keep moving forward our efforts to transform education and to build innovative, 21st century learning environments.

When we think about the classroom moving forward, we must continue to press toward building learner-centered environments. Ideally, learner-centered environments are those in which students both participate in and take responsibility for their own learning. Giving our students a sense of ownership and empowerment through the use of personal technology, combined with the subsequent (and necessary) transformation of instructional strategy to one that is student-centered, rather than teacher-centered, is the most effective way to bring lasting change and measurable gains in student performance, both academically and personally. 

Choosing the right technologies to support such a vision is of the utmost importance. Many believe that the best technologies for the classroom are those that are instructionally-centered, driven largely by a belief that students are somehow more "visual" today than they were in the past. As Clark, Yates, et al. point out in a recent paper (2009), nothing could be further from the truth. The research team ultimately found that, while attention and compliance may have increased, outcomes in no way reflected any gains in learning, skills, abilities, or academic achievement. A deep dive into their research reveals only one conclusion: technology that does not drive changes in instructional strategy has little-to-no impact on desired student outcomes. Our own research and data further validate this conclusion.

It is important to note I am absolutely not saying that teacher-centered, instructionally-focused technologies do not have value, just that they should not be the center, or focal point of our strategy moving forward. Instead, our focus should be on building the environment in such a way as to support the learner, and to empower the teacher to guide the learner along their path of discovery.

When we shift our focus to the learner and the skills and experience they will need to succeed not just on tests, but in life, we must first accept that life in the 21st century is not like life was in the 20th century (or the 19th century, in which our present instructional methodology was founded). As John Dewey famously stated, "If we teach today like we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow." In order to build and plan for the future, we must first recognize key differences between life in the 20th and 21st centuries, and build our classroom experiences with a mind toward the skills necessary to thrive in a 21st century world. In short, what we need to be doing is preparing kids for something I like to call, Life 2.0. To my mind, the following are what Life 2.0 is all about:

  • Information abundance: The days of the textbook and teacher being the sole source of knowledge and information are gone, and we would do well to recognize it. According to the IDC, 1.2 zettabytes of knowledge and information was created on the internet in 2010. In human terms, that's the equivalent of 100 million times the Library of Congress. To put it in personal terms, that's 80 terabytes of information per person, or the equivalent of a stack of books 7000 feet tall, per man, woman, and child on the face of the earth. When we consider that, according to the latest research in neuroscience, the capacity of the human brain is between 4-10 terabytes (1/8th the total knowledge created per person on an annual basis), the only conclusion we can come to is that we've outsourced our memories to Google. We need to be preparing our kids with the skills necessary to navigate a world of abundant information. Now more than ever students must learn to analyze content for validity and bias, but perhaps even more importantly, students must have the opportunity to learn how to filter. Navigating a society driven by information abundance requires skills that can't be learned by mere demonstration, but instead must be experienced and exercised on a continual basis.

  • Free and open: We live in a world that is increasingly driven by that which is free and open. Free and open tools and resources have not only driven the information abundance described above, but have also changed the way we think about economics, politics, socialization, and life. Free software and tools have empowered us with new capabilities to create and innovate. Social media and other Web 2.0 tools have enabled us to connect, share, and collaborate in new ways. Open content has given us access to information we might not otherwise have gained access to and, more importantly, the ability to participate in the creation of that content, bringing improvements and relevance by way of our own knowledge and experience. This brings with it the further opportunity to remix that content into something new, different, and perhaps equally relevant. Increasingly, the nature of intelligence has shifted from "what do I know and what can I do" to "what can I do with what I don't know and what people and resources can I bring to solve a problem." How will we leverage these tools to bring creativity, innovation, and teamwork back into our classrooms? How will we teach our kids to navigate in these spaces safely and effectively? What will we do to make sure that they understand the implications of their online actions? We cannot continue to pretend these don't exist, we must take an active role in educating our students and, more importantly, leverage these tools for the educational opportunities they provide.

  • Managing choice: All of the abundant information and free resources bring with them a new problem: managing choice. In a society of abundance such as ours, managing choice has become increasingly difficult. Where we once had to choose between two or three options, we now find ourselves choosing between tens, if not hundreds of choices. And we face these choices every single day. In our increasingly structured, scripted, and test driven environments, the opportunities for kids to make choices are often few and far between. Technology-driven access to the abundances above brings with it not only opportunities for our students to make those choices, but also creates opportunities for us as educators to provide guidance and the value of our experience as we ask tough questions, like "why did you make that choice" and "what led you to that decision."

  • Hyper-connected: If there is one thing that the Internet, computers, smart phones, and every other piece of electronics tells us, it is that we live in a hyper-connected society. Access is no longer reserved for a precious few on an occasional basis, it is continuously available to all, at a moments notice. We expect to be able to send a message instantly. We expect immediate responses. We assume that we will be able to get to digital information and resources immediately. This is how we live, how our parents live, and what our kids see every day. Unfortunately, when they get to the classroom, we shut off all the devices and pretend that the world doesn't work this way. Students go home to see mom and dad working on their computers, looking things up, making reservations, etc., etc., then come to school and see none of it. And we wonder why kids don't think school is relevant and why parents are voting with their feet.

  • Embracing failure: The fear of failure can be one of the most crippling things in life, perhaps never more so than in the educational environment. In a place where discovery and exploration are held in the highest regard, the opportunity to fail gracefully has been gradually weeded out in favor of a "pass/fail" mentality. Whether intentionally or not, we systematically condition our students to fear failure through a steady regimen of "proven strategies" (read scripts) that over-emphasize "standards" and "tests". Science fairs are eliminated, arts programs diminished, drama and dance are nearly non-existent, and technology is banished to the periphery because it doesn't fit neatly into a pass/fail model. Funny thing is, life doesn't fit this model either, which may explain why so many schools have settled on a goal of "preparing kids for college" (ie to pass tests), rather that preparing them for life. What we must never forget, no matter what circumstances are forced upon us, is that without failure, there is no success. We learn when we fail. We grow when we fall. Science is all about learning from failure, and failure is a key component of innovation, without which nothing would ever be tried. The right technology brings with it the opportunity to create environments where students have the opportunity to not just fail, but to fail gracefully, recover quickly, and move forward having learned from the experience in a non-threatening way.

The challenge for us moving forward is to find ways to embrace these five key characteristics through our educational practice. I believe (and have the data to back up my belief) that this can be achieved through the use of the right technologies and the creation of effective environments for learning. And all of it can be accomplished without sacrificing content or standards or any of the other "requirements" laid on us by the state, without significant burden on our staff.

Key components of this 21st century learning environment must include:

  • Every student must have a device. That device must be reliable, durable, continuously accessible, and available at a moment's notice. It must be hyper-connected via a wireless infrastructure, have a long battery life so as to not require mid-day charging, and be flexible and capable for creating and sharing. The device must be low cost, as the district (and potentially our parents) must be able to easily afford to purchase/maintain it. Above all, these devices need to be easy for a teacher to manage, providing recovery features that they can perform themselves to keep class moving forward.

  • Every student must have access to a diverse range of resources and tools. These not only empower students to create in a variety of ways, but also afford the opportunity for students (and teachers) to make the choices discussed above, and to differentiate based on each student's (and teacher's) individual needs.

  • Everyone (teachers and students) must have a place to share and swap. Providing a space to post, share, and collaborate creates an environment of sharing and adds relevance to even the most mundane student activities by bringing an authentic audience. In addition, a shared space offers teachers and leaders the opportunity to collect the "artifacts of learning" each student creates over the course of their academic career, regardless of where or how the artifact was created. And perhaps most importantly, a shared space helps to create a culture of open collaboration, where ideas are developed/learned/spread beyond the walls of the classroom and the bounds of the school, to the benefit of all.

  • An empowered teacher. That teacher needs appropriate staff development, opportunities for collaboration, and tools and resources to guide and manage a technology-rich learning environment.

Of course, deployment should be age appropriate. Experience tells us that grade four is probably the earliest we would want to get each student a device. But that doesn't mean that our instructional strategies for grades K-3 should remain unchanged - quite the contrary. All grade level strategies should be adjusted with an eye towards the fourth through sixth grade technology infusion. Opportunities for keyboarding and other essential skills should be worked into lower grade classroom time. K-3 teachers need the tools to leverage digital content and media in the classroom, and to demonstrate/model 21st century skills and citizenship. The obvious growth path is a natural progression that leads to full technology immersion by grade four.

As such, we need to work on getting the following key components into every school:

  • Expand existing wireless infrastructure to school-wide at every school: Relatively easy to do and inexpensive, based on our SWATTEC experience.

  • Projector and laptop for every teacher in all grades: Every teacher needs a way to present and share with students, and they also need to be mobile so that they can build/prepare/leverage technological resources wherever they might be.

  • iPad: Every teacher should have an iPad (in lieu of a SmartBoard or interactive slate). iPads offer teachers the ability to perform all of the "smart" lessons and activities from any location in the classroom. They alleviate the need for a mounted board, which forces a teacher to stand in the shadow of a projector at the front of the class, and are preferable to interactive slates, as interacting with the screen on the iPad directly is far easier than watching the projection while manipulating a slate by braille. iPads are extremely easy for teachers to adopt, enabling teachers to access online resources, leverage a variety of learning applications, utilize existing content libraries, and create new resources for ongoing instructional use. They are also far less expensive and more capable than boards or slates.

  • Voice/audio reinforcement: Reduces voice strain for teachers. Students learn better when they can hear teachers clearly and continuously, regardless of the teacher's location or facing direction. In addition, reinforcement systems can hook into teacher laptops and media distribution systems to provide audio for multimedia being delivered via projector.

  • Central lab or shared device cart with sufficient equipment for primary grades to utilize as they learn and prepare for full immersion. These can be smaller and have fewer requirements than typical labs/carts, as the class sizes and student capabilities will be smaller. Can be built with existing computers in the remaining, non-1:1 classrooms.

  • Continue to build out our efforts to provide netbooks for every student grades 4-6. These can be both district provided and/or parent provided.

By laying this as a foundation, we create an environment where nearly anything is possible, and bring not only relevance to our learning activities, but also the opportunity to guide our students as they learn key 21st century skills through direct experience. Ubiquitous access brings with it the opportunity, dare I say the necessity to transform the learning environment and instructional strategies to meet the characteristics of the 21st century world. Above all, it creates a space where the idea of technology as an "add-on" or "activity" melts away, and instead technology is both assumed and presumed, transparent and expected. As is so well stated by Weston & Bain (2010), "Bransford et al (2000), Jonassen (2000, 2004, 2006, 2008), and Jonassen et al. (1999), fix the future of educational technology in cognitive tools that shape and extend human capabilities. Cognitive tools blur the unproductive distinctions that techno-critics make between computers and teaching and learning (Bullen & Janes, 2007; Hukkinen, 2008; Kommers et al., 1992; Lajoie, 2000). When technology enables, empowers, and accelerates a profession's core transactions, the distinctions between computers and professional practice evaporate. For instance, when a surgeon uses an arthriscope to trim a cartilage (Johnson & Pedowitz, 2007), a structural engineer uses computer-assisted design software to simulate stresses on a bridge (Yeomans, 2009), or a sales manager uses customer-relations-management software to predict future inventory needs (Baltzen & Phillips, 2009), they do not think about technology. Each one thinks about her or his professional transaction." 

Best of all, through research on our own SWATTEC project (Warschauer, 2010) and that of countless others, we know that this strategy works (unlike peripheral delivery technologies). As concluded by Bebell & Kay (2010), "the types of educational access and opportunities afforded by 1:1 computing (lead) to measurable changes in teacher practices, student achievement, student engagement, and students’ research skills." - all outcomes I believe we should collectively strive for.

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Posted by Jim Klein | 9 comment(s) | Share This

April 09, 2011

nookMuch has been made of the value of the iPad as an education device. Some believe it to be the salvation of education, while others are taking a more balanced perspective. While I have already made my opinion well known, I do believe that tablet devices in general hold particular promise for special needs students. Expensive, highly specialized, single purpose devices have long been in use in this space, in an effort to overcome issues with fine motor skills and other cognitive challenges for which traditional computing interfaces are simply ineffective. When compared to those devices, I believe the low cost and high flexibility of a tablet device brings with it the potential to bring significant benefits to special needs students.

Until recently, the only choice for such an application has been the iPad. While the iPad is an excellent tool, it is still big, expensive, and brings with it a raft of associated costs, restrictions, and management headaches that can be challenging for an already over-burdened special education teacher. Size and costs lead to fewer devices being deployed and less than continuous access for students. 

But the iPad is no longer the only game in town. A number of Android devices are on the horizon, many of which bring with them greater portability and lower costs than their larger cousins. Here at Saugus, we decided to give one such option a try - Barnes & Noble's Nook Color.

The Nook Color is, for all intents and purposes, an Android tablet disguised as an e-reader. Its 7 inch screen size makes it significantly smaller, lighter, and generally more portable than larger tablets, which, coupled with its lack of edge-to-edge glass, makes it less prone to breakage in the event of an accidental drop. In addition, it has a fast processor, plenty of memory, and expandable storage through a built-in, microSD slot. On the software side you'll find an easy to use, multi-touch interface with a web browser, a powerful e-reader with access to Barnes & Noble's huge library, and (with a little massaging) access to over 200,000 apps in the Android Market. And it costs less than half the cost of the least expensive iPad. (For further details on Nook Color vs. iPad, see Could the Nook Color be the Tablet Surprise of 2011?)

We recently added 6 units to our moderate-to-severe autism program. Six teachers in the program were already making use of two shared iPads, so they were familiar with the capabilities of tablets and their application in the special needs classroom. This naturally gave us a great foundation for working with the Nooks and figuring out which applications were necessary to meet their needs. At present, the following applications are in active use:

  • Kid Shape Puzzle HD - Puzzle/game where kids slide puzzle pieces into place to reveal one of 90 different shapes. Works on cognitive and fine-motor skills.
  • Monkey Preschool Lunchbox - 6 games that teach kids ages about colors, letters, counting, shapes, differences, and matching
  • Play with Sammy - Playing with Sammy the penguin, kids guess colors of common objects, identify animal sounds, and recognize shapes of objects.
  • Smart Turtle - Smart Turtle develops motor skills & hand eye coordination as well fundamentally develops mental aptitude.
  • Sign Language Dictionary - Teaches the 300 ASL signs needed for clear communication.
  • AAC Speech Buddy - Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) application featuring an image repository you have access to over 2000+ images from the Mulberry Symbols collection by Paxtoncrafts Charitable Trust and sharable (online) speech sets.
  • First Words ABC: Fill the Gap - Excellent elementary spelling program that goes beyond taking away a letter at a time from the words.
  • Preschool Basics - A colorful set of flash cards with sound for the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, and vocabulary.
  • Bird Book - Bird illustrations, sounds and bird name pronunciation, with a quiz to recognize the birds from their sounds
  • Xylophone - Music app
  • Kids Piano Lite - Eight tone piano/xylophone/games that help kids develop latent art cell by playing music
  • Learn Letters - Classical matching cards memory game, training memory and learning letters simultaneously.
  • Bubbles - Blow bubbles by dragging your finger and then tap to pop.
  • Learn Cards (Animals) - Explore the world of animals, learn their names and memorize the sounds they make. Includes learning mode, animal recognition test and a fun animal puzzle.
  • Alexicom AAC - Augmentative communication system
  • Days/Months - Calendar flash cards combine audio and visual cues to teach children the calendar.
  • Numbers 50 - Teaches numbers and pre-math skills
  • Shapes - Teaches shapes and colors. Customizable with edit mode enables users to create their own cards and add their own voice
  • Sight Words - Teaches sight words with editable decks, favorites, audio, random letters, multiple colors.
  • TapToTalk - Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tool. Tap a picture - TapToTalk speaks.
  • Kids Connect the Dots - Teaches kids to recognize and pronounce numbers and letters of the alphabet in a kid-friendly way

Installing these apps is actually quite simple. Teachers use the Android Market web site to select the apps they want to try, and they automagically download and install on all six devices with one click. No plugging in, syncing, gifting, etc., etc. as is required on iPads. In fact, the Nooks NEVER have to be plugged in to a computer - they work as completely independent devices.

So far, the results have been quite positive. Comments from the teachers often include the words, "that's it?" in reference to how easy the device is to manage. Other comments have included:

"We are simply ecstatic over the NOOKS! After just a few minutes with it I can see many possibilities!"

"Everyone can do it, even the 3 year olds in the program are making use of them."

"The kids are not interested in doing the traditional wooden puzzles and card matching, but the activities on these devices they would do for hours if we let them."

"The kids are amazing problem solvers with these."

"The Nooks bring all the traits/responses we often talk about in special ed: attention, motivation, reward, etc."

Needless to say, after a month with the Nooks we are quite pleased with them. We are impressed with the pace at which they have been adopted and the amount of use they are getting. And there's nothing quite like seeing an autistic student with one of them in their hands.

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Keywords: Autism, Education, Nook, Nook Color, Special Education, Special Needs, Technology

Posted by Jim Klein | 319 comment(s) | Share This

April 03, 2011

I've been thinking a lot about innovation lately, especially as it relates to education, and perhaps more importantly how the crushing force of hype often stifles it. Corporation X comes out with innovative product Y, sells that product to the world as the future, convinces a few naive but influential writers/bloggers/reporters with a tendency towards utopianism to write/speak favorably about it, and suddenly the world believes that this one thing is the only path to world peace, an end to hunger, and happiness for all. This then leads to the belief among educators that if we can just get product Y into our classrooms, knowledge will flourish and all of our problems will be solved. Of course, there is no depth to these assertions, which are based entirely on assumptions driven by a shallow view of education as a series of activities, rather than an environment or ecosystem for learning. 

The unfortunate consequence of all of this for those who would be so bold as to try something that runs contradictory to these trends - dare I say those who would be innovative - is that their ideas must undoubtedly bear the full weight of this hype-wave and the criticism of its apostles. For those brave souls, I offer these thoughts; this encouragement to stick to your guns and pursue what, if you have thoughtfully considered your idea, you know to be true:


1. Innovators put little stock in criticism from the mainstream

It is important to remember that a true innovation is both revolutionary and transformative, and requires a perspective that is likely to be outside that of the mainstream. It tends to challenge the understanding and habits of others, which inevitably leads to broad criticism. Consider the following comments from a wide variety of journalists, pundits, and other self-proclaimed "experts":


What's remarkable about these is not that they are profoundly negative - we've all seen comments like them before. What's remarkable is that they are referring to the original iPod, a product and business model that is nearly ubiquitous today. Obviously, the pundits got that one completely wrong, because they lacked both a clear understanding and perspective of the implications of such a move by Apple. They viewed the iPod as it related to their current conditions and habits, from a shallow, evolutionary perspective of "how can I use this to do what I already do better". As such, they simply couldn't see the deeper, radical transformation that Apple and the iPod were about to bring to the music industry and the purchasing/listening habits of the buying public.

The long and the short of it is this: if you are trying to reform something - ie take what you already have and make it better - then you listen to everybody. They know how they use/do what you are trying to improve and are the best resource for knowledge and ideas around building incremental gains. If, however, you are trying to do something truly innovative, then you don't (listen). If your idea is truly innovative, you'll know it by the number of critics you have. If everyone agrees with you, then your idea probably isn't innovative or transformative.


2. Innovators see opportunities in both the "old" and the "new"

A funny thing about innovation is that quite often it can be found in something that was, for all intents and purposes, "ahead of its time." For example, I think it's safe to assert that Web 2.0 and all it's related technologies are both an immense source of innovation and transformation in society today. And, as every Web 2.0 programmer knows (and most who are "in the know" recognize), the foundation of all this innovation is the javascript programming language. But the funny thing about javascript is that it's not at all new. Javascript has been a part of web browsers since the days of Netscape, and is over 16 years old (an eternity in time for any technology). It didn't reach it's true potential until a number of other technologies, such as CSS and HTML5, came into existence.


Innovators are often criticized for rethinking the use of something "old", be it an idea or a physical thing, in a new and innovative way. It is argued that the idea clearly can't be innovative because they are not using the latest "bright, shiny object" that is garnering the most attention. Innovators recognize that "new" doesn't always equal "better", and that sometimes even the oldest ingredients can be combined to make something so impactful that it inspires a generation.


3. Innovators embrace resource constraints

Throughout history, resource constraints have been some of the greatest drivers of invention and innovation. A lack of resources - be they financial, material, technological, or otherwise - forces us to think differently about solving problems, and has a tendency to lead to breakthroughs with broad sweeping social impact. Take, for example, the development of the jet engine. 


In the beginning of the cold war era after World War II there was a race to secure air superiority, with both the allies and the Soviet Union working to develop a reliable jet-turbine engine. The problem with jet engines was this: in order to make them go faster, you had to pump in more fuel and air. When you burn more fuel, you increase heat, which causes the parts to get hotter, and eventually leads to material fatigue and engine failure. At the time, several American teams under General Electric were competing against several German teams under BMW to find a solution to the perplexing problem. The key difference was that the American team had virtually endless resources to test whatever materials they could find/develop, while the Germans had very little, and were forced to work with the materials they had on hand. As it turns out, the German team won by proposing a status quo shattering idea of hollowing out rotor blades and other highly heat exposed parts, allowing air to flow through them and enabling them to cool naturally - a breakthrough that is still in use today.

Resource constraints can arguably be the greatest drivers of innovation, because they force us to look beyond the status quo for new ways to solve problems. Innovators see them not as a limitation, but as an opportunity to re-think, re-imagine, and invent. They wallow not in "if only we had" but instead seek out and discover new opportunities for inventiveness and innovation.


4. Innovators jump curves

History reveals another lesson about innovation, and that is that innovators "jump curves." By "curves" I am referring to trend-lines or natural trajectories of evolutionary growth. A famous example of this is the story of ice delivery in America. Around the turn of the 20th century, ice for Americans was largely produced by ice farmers in the far northern reaches and shipped via boat down rivers throughout the states. This was a tedious, labor-intensive process that was not terribly efficient, with limited reach and little impact on society as a whole.



Within a few decades, ice farms gave way to ice factories, which were able to produce ice far closer to their destination at significantly reduced cost. The ice was largely delivered by horse and wagon, as you can see below.



Of course, within a short time, refrigerators were invented, and no one needed the ice factories any more, because they could produce it in their homes using these new fangled, personal "chillers", like this Oldman model.



The interesting thing about this story is not the evolution and development of refrigeration, although that certainly can be viewed as one of the most significant developments in human history. The important detail is that, as far as one can tell from the history books, none of the ice farmers ever started ice factories, and none of the ice factories ever developed refrigerators. Ice farmers looked for sharper blades and more efficient methods for harvesting ice. Ice factories looked for better ways to store and more efficient ways to deliver. Both were so focused on finding better ways to do what they already knew how to do better, that they "reformed" themselves into oblivion.

Innovators jump curves and challenge the status quo. They aren't afraid to try something new, even if it runs counter to what they already "know".


5. Innovators don't pretend to know the outcome

Too often, innovative ideas are ruined by what I call "systemization", or a presupposed methodology combined with a rigid requirement for adherence to a predetermined usage pattern (now that's a mouthful). Case in point: Friendster.


In the early oughts, before MySpace and Facebook, a group out of Northern California designed a social site called "Friendster", designed to be a safe environment for meeting new people online. Within a few short months of its launch, Friendster was fast on its way to becoming the biggest site on the internet, with staggering growth and social acceptance. Social memes began to take shape all around the world as new norms developed, such as referring to online friends as "friendsters". The future certainly looked bright for this little startup out of Mountain View.

The creativity of its users knew no bounds as members began creating profiles that no longer represented single individuals, as Friendster's founders intended, but instead for bands, groups, fictional characters, and the like. Stories began to emerge of famous profiles like "Salt" and "Pepper", who would write long, humorous love notes to each other about how they "so hated to be apart" and "longed to be together again." Groups would use Friendster to communicate with each other and bands would reach out to their fans. 

Rather than embracing their users' creativity, the people behind Friendster decided that this represented "inappropriate usage", and systematically deleted any accounts that didn't fit their predetermined usage pattern. Naturally, this frustrated their users, which would be courted by a fledgling startup, MySpace, who was all too willing to accept them. MySpace went on to become a cultural phenomenon, while Friendster all but disappeared from cultural consciousness in the United States.

Rigid standards, restrictions, usage requirements, and assumptions lead to one thing: the death of innovation. Innovators' ideas are implemented to be as open as possible, and innovators are willing to step back, and let 1000 flowers bloom. Often, their inventions look quite different than they did at origination, but that's OK, because they are having a lasting impact.


6. Innovators aren't afraid of failure, and are quick to let go

The most important trait of an innovator is that they are not afraid of failure. They are not reckless, by any means, but are also not so wed to an idea that they will do everything in their power to force its success. Too often, wannabe innovators will be so convinced that they are right that when the idea proves bad, they buck and fight and strive to keep it alive. There is seemingly no end to the number of hoops they will jump through until their idea is so disapproved that they have expended all of their social capital and significantly reduced the chances that their next idea will be met with acceptance.

Innovators recognize that not every idea will be a success, and are quick to discard and move away from those that are not. As Walt Disney famously stated:

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Innovators keep moving forward, pressing toward new ideas, with the hope of making this world a better place.


Photo credits:

Jet engine: Public Domain - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BMW_003_jet_engine.JPG
Ice Farmers: Library of Congress - http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91787147/
Ice Factory Worker: Public Domain - http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/owi2001022945/PP/
Ice Delivery Cart: Public Domain - http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa1997023940/PP/
Oldman Refrigerator: CC BY-SA - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Monitor_refer.jpg 

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Posted by Jim Klein | 7 comment(s) | Share This

February 07, 2011

In a prior post I offered a few thoughts on the future of the Nook Color as an awesome Android tablet, and in another I showed you how to root the last version (v1.0.1) of the Nook Color software. In this post, I've updated all the links and instructions for the latest version of the Nook Color software (v1.1), should you happen to have purchased a newer one, or want to start over with the latest version.

Gathering all the pieces you need

The first thing you have to do is track down a Nook Color of your very own. At present, this might be a bit difficult, as most Barnes & Noble stores are sold out, but Wal-mart stores appear to have pretty good stock (at least at the moment). Also, you'll need to pick up a microSD card and an appropriate adapter (like this one) so that you can plug it in to your computer. Most computers and laptops have an SDcard slot (often referred to as a Multi-card reader), but if yours doesn't, be sure to get a USB to SDCard adapter as well (like this one). USB to SDCard adapters may be a little tricky to find in stock at a local store - I've had the best luck at office supply stores like OfficeDepot and OfficeMax. Keep in mind that you'll be using the microSD card to store music, video, and pictures on, so be sure to select one that is of sufficient size. Note that an average, feature length movie (don't worry, I'll tell you just how to encode your own from a DVD below) will require about 800 Megabytes (roughly 0.8 Gigabytes) of space. More ...

Posted by Jim Klein | 25 comment(s) | Share This

January 29, 2011

nookIn my last post, How to turn a Nook Color into an Awesome Android Tablet, I showed you how to take your Nook Color running Barnes & Noble software version 1.0.1 and make it your own. Since then, Barnes & Noble has released a software update to 1.1, which brings pinch-to-zoom to the browser, along with a number of behind-the-scenes improvements to the book reader applications. In this post, I'll take you through the steps required to upgrade your already rooted Nook Color to version 1.1. These instructions only apply to Nook Colors that have been rooted according to my last (older) post. If you have a new Nook Color that is in need of rooting, follow these instructions instead.

Once this upgrade is complete, we'll have everything we need in place to speed up your Nook Color with an 1100MHz kernel, so I'll walk you through those steps as well :)

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Keywords: Android, Nook, Nook Color, Nook Color 1.1 Update, Tablet

Posted by Jim Klein | 41 comment(s) | Share This

January 02, 2011

In my prior post I offered a few thoughts on the future of the Nook Color as an awesome Android tablet. In this one, I'll take it a step further and tell you exactly what I did to make my wife's Nook sing. 

Note: This post is now obsolete and has been updated for the latest version of the Nook Color here

Gathering all the pieces you need

The first thing you have to do is track down a Nook Color of your very own. Here in California, at least, this can be a bit more difficult, as most Barnes & Noble stores are sold out, due to dizzying Christmas sales. Thankfully, there's a little Barnes & Noble partner that nobody knew about this year named Wal-mart, whose stores appear to have pretty good stock (at least at the moment). Also, you'll need to pick up a microSD card and an appropriate adapter (like this one) so that you can plug it in to your computer. Most computers and laptops have an SDcard slot (often referred to as a Multi-card reader), but if yours doesn't, be sure to get a USB to SDCard adapter as well (like this one). USB to SDCard adapters may be a little tricky to find in stock at a local store - I've had the best luck at office supply stores like OfficeDepot and OfficeMax. Keep in mind that you'll be using the microSD card to store music, video, and pictures on, so be sure to select one that is of sufficient size. Note that an average, feature length movie (don't worry, I'll tell you just how to encode your own from a DVD below) will require about 800 Megabytes (roughly 0.8 Gigabytes) of space. More ...

Posted by Jim Klein | 43 comment(s) | Share This

December 31, 2010

nook1As anyone who reads my blog or follows me on Twitter knows, I'm not a particular fan of Apple's iPad. I find it to be too big, too expensive, too locked down, and too beholden to the whims and restrictions (DRM, etc) of one company. They have been largely oversold, with pundits of all sorts positioning them as the holy grail of technological invention, falsely predicting that they will summarily squash less expensive, more capable rival technologies in one fell swoop. And why wouldn't they say such things? After all, tablets combined with tightly-controlled, proprietary ecosystems represent the last, best hope for the "pay-for-play" model of media and content providers who have been decimated by the liberation of information on the web. "These are awesome! You really should buy one!" is really a cover for regaining the ability to control what you see, what you do, and how you consume content and media. The "appification" of otherwise free resources has re-invigorated revenue streams for hundreds (if not thousands) of beleaguered outlets, bent on maintaing outdated business and ownership models. All they have to do is convince you of how cool the device is (and consequently how cool you'll be) and they believe they've got you. Of course, this idea is already showing signs of backfiring. (For more thoughts on this, see my Of Egos and Sharp Sticks post.) More ...

Keywords: Android, iPad, Nook, Nook Color, TabletPCs, Tablets

Posted by Jim Klein | 9 comment(s) | Share This

December 11, 2010

Much has been made over the last few days of the recently announced (you could say, finally announced) ChromeOS notebook from Google. While this may seem like a new release, ChromeOS has actually been in active development for quite some time under the Chromium project, That said, the recent unveiling revealed more than just software, it also revealed Google's future plans and strategy for this tiny OS. So does ChromeOS bring a new revolution to the portable computing table? And does the Google strategy make sense, either short term or long term? Let's take a look, beginning with the technology.

ChromeOS - The Hardware

cr48As part of the launch event, Google unveiled the CR-48 notebook, which is intended to be a reference platform upon which future devices are based. As has been revealed by numerous, lucky recipients of a demo unit, this device is essentially a standard netbook inside with a 12 inch display. The display operates at 1280 X 800 pixels, which is actually a bit lower resolution than a typical 11 inch+ netbook, This particular model also has a standard 1.66GHz Intel Atom N455 single-core processor (although multi-core processors are certainly supported) with standard Intel integrated graphics, 2Gb of RAM, and a 16G Solid State Drive (SSD) from SanDisk. The SSD is a nice addition (something I've always preferred, but have found difficult to find in most netbooks today) which should offer improvements in speed, battery life, and durability (ie no moving parts). The only other marginally remarkable thing about the device is the keyboard, which, while it has a similar layout to any other keyboard, has a number of "custom" keys in places where function keys usually reside. These keys are, in fact, standard function keys, they have just been remapped to serve different purposes in the operating system, such as volume up/down, brightness, etc. Surprisingly, Caps Lock no longer exists - pressing this key brings up a new tab in the Chrome web browser instead. This is a welcome change for me personally, as it means people will have to work a lot harder to shout in their text messages. Finally, both 3G and WiFi access to the InterTubes is included, with free access to Verizon's 3G network for 2 years. There is a 100Mb monthly data allowance, which seems awfully small, in my opinion, for an entirely web-based device. It remains to be seen if this will truly prove to be a problem under normal use. I haven't seen anything that specs out the costs for going over that initial 100Mb - hopefully, Verizon won't use it as an opportunity to gouge users (I'm not holding my breath).

That's it, standard netbook fare in a bigger package. For my personal needs, bigger is not what I want - portability is more important to me and smaller is better when it comes to hardware on student desks. But I can understand why the size was increased, as the number one complaint I hear from fogies is, "it's too small". It's also worth noting that there is no mention anywhere of support for accelerated graphics cards. This is somewhat surprising, especially in light of the development of WebGL, which will become increasingly important for gaming in a web-centric environment such as ChromeOS.

ChromeOS - The Software

Software is arguably the most important aspect of any device, as the user experience is almost entirely driven by it. The ChromeOS model is primarily based on the web browser (Google Chrome version 9, in it's current incarnation) and the web - there is no facility for installing any other local applications on the machine. This brings a certain simplicity to the experience, in that there is no other knowledge required to use the device. On first boot, you are asked for three things: your wireless network, your Google account information, and a picture for your account, taken on the built-in webcam (which you can opt-out of, if you so desire). That's it. The next thing that happens is Google's Chrome web browser opens, with convenient "app" icons that give you quick access to Google apps and the Google "Web Store". Since you will already be logged in to your Google account, clicking on any one of these "apps" will take you straight to them without typing in your user id or password again.


The idea of "Apps" in ChromeOS can be somewhat dubious. In reality, the majority of these are just links to web sites with pretty icons you can see in the "app" launcher. For the most part (although not in every case) these links point to Chrome specific versions of these web sites. But they are web sites, just the same. The only distinction here from standard web sites are paid "apps", which appear to be based entirely on Chrome extensions. These presumably handle the authentications and authorizations required to ensure that you did indeed pay for them and are allowed to use them. Every one of these "apps" I have tried is based on HTML5 web pages funneled through the extension like a viewer. 

Obviously, a web browser alone can be somewhat lacking in capability when it comes to managing an entire device experience, so Google has made some interesting additions. Basic settings for the wireless, internet access, the touchpad, and other device specific details have been added to the default Chrome settings window, which can be accessed by menu or by typing "chrome://settings" in the Chrome address bar. The settings are very basic, lending easy access for novice users.


There is also an interesting concept of "tabs" or "drawers" across the bottom of the screen, which Chrome utilizes for some applications (like Google Talk) and for basic access to files (which will only be Downloads, since there really aren't any applications that will create local files). These tabs appear as thin, unobtrusive slivers when you are not looking at them, only popping up to show you what they contain when you point at them.


Clicking on one slides out the drawer, revealing its contents. The Downloads drawer, which can be accessed any time by pressing ctrl-o on the keyboard, is super basic, offering no real way to create folders or organize what you have downloaded to your device. This may seem like a non-issue, but I can certainly see where this folder might get rather unruly over time, especially with all the attachments I receive via email. I can only assume that Google wants you to re-upload anything you want to keep into Google Docs, as the Downloads tab clearly isn't designed for any sort of long term storage. Notifications for various web apps (like Seesmic) also appear as tabs at the bottom, which I have found to be a quite pleasant, unobtrusive way to be notified. Interestingly, the tabs appear to be independent of the main browser window, as they are available even when you are geeking out in the terminal (more on that later).


Printing is one area where the concept really falls flat at the moment. The ONLY way to print is through Google Cloud Print, which is ONLY available for Windows desktops. So, not only will you be tied to a desktop, you will be tied to a crappy desktop.

ChromeOS - Under the Hood.

For all you geeks out there, there is plenty of goodness in ChromeOS. As you probably already know, the OS is based on a very slim version of Linux, and a simple "ctrl-alt-t" will get you to a custom shell. Typing "help" in the shell will reveal a number of commands that have clearly been designed for use by technicians who are setting up the devices in complex environments. Simple commands for carrier activation, adding enterprise SSL certificates, and other details can be found here. But the most important command for geeks is the "shell" command, which dumps you out to a standard Linux terminal.

Once in the shell, you will find few surprises, if you are familiar with Linux. The directory structure is just what you'd expect - everything appears to be in the right places, unlike Android (which is generally goofy). There isn't a lot to look at - this build is very trim, lacking even common package managers like apt/dpkg or rpm. There are no GNOME or KDE bits anywhere, just a basic X server. The kernel version comes up as, which suggests a somewhat modified, but similar kernel to the one that comes with Ubuntu 10.04. The "drm33.10" part suggests that the DRM bits are turned on, presumably in anticipation of future content partnerships (can you say Netflix/Hulu?) Based on the contents of the folders (ie locations of scripts, log files, etc), the kernel version, and the knowledge that Ubuntu 10.04 is required to build it from scratch, it's a good bet that the whole thing is modeled on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx).

You'll also find that the home folders are encrypted, which is a good move for a portable device such as this. If it should get lost, private information should be quite secure from prying eyes.

Basically what we have is a very trim Linux distribution that boots directly into Chrome, instead of a traditional desktop interface. Nothing fancy or complex, which is exactly the way Google believes most users will want it.

ChromeOS - The Strategy

The strategy behind ChromeOS is fairly simple: provide a consistent and powerful platform for the delivery of web-based applications and content. Of course, while this may sound simple, the realization of the dream has, until recently, evaded developers and content providers. Web browsers have been far from consistent, and lightweight, rich application delivery technology with offline data support has only recently reached maturation with the advent of HTML5 and advances in JavaScript. By providing a platform upon which developers can expect a consistent experience, Google is attempting to make the dream a reality. 

The benefits of such a strategy are easy to envision. Delivering applications in this fashion significantly reduces the need for powerful hardware on the users' side, instead relying on the application servers for processing and generation. Lesser hardware requirements reduce size and power consumption, increasing battery life and enabling the creation of smaller and more portable devices at lower cost. Minimal user-side requirements reduce complexity and the likelihood of technical failures and/or vulnerability, naturally increasing reliability. And cloud-based storage enables anywhere, anytime access to user generated data and content, with sharing options that offer opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. The net effect is more choice and increased access for all.

Of course, the big question is has the time finally come? With ChromeOS, Google believes that it has.

ChromeOS - The Experience

Working with ChromeOS can be at times joyful, and at other times frustrating, The general web experience is just as pleasant as it is with Chrome on a desktop computer: lightning fast, feature-rich, all-in-all quite enjoyable. Chrome Sync is turned on by default, so all your settings, bookmarks, and activity sync nicely with any other device running Chrome. Should anything happen to your ChromeOS device, there is little to worry about because the next time you log in to Chrome on any other device, all (well, almost all - your Downloads will be gone) of your stuff will be there. The system is extremely fast to boot - I clocked 20 seconds on my netbook, the SSD version will probably trim that down a few - and the battery life is quite good, as it is with most netbooks running Linux. The "app"-centric mentality, while a little silly on the surface, I have (unexpectedly) found to add to the overall experience, making using the device more appealing. By utilizing common desktop metaphors and organizational tools, ChromeOS really serves to mask the fact that what we are doing is using the web in the same way that we could on any other device. The addition of Single Sign On (SSO) features in a number of the Chrome-specific sites is a nice touch as well. These sites simply ask you if it's OK to use Google as an authenticator, then automatically get you right to your stuff - no login required.

That said, under practical, day-to-day use there are some real pain points. The biggest, by far, is the number of hoops you have to jump through to create anything with content from multiple sources. I don't even think twice about pulling a photo off of my phone or digital camera and adding it to a post or document on a Ubuntu netbook, but with ChromeOS it really causes some heartburn. For one or two one can easily email himself or upload the images to Flickr or Picasa. But any more than a few rapidly becomes an exercise in frustration. Bouncing a photo from one web-based application to another (and then another) just to get it the way you want it can burn a lot of time. 

In addition, finding webapps to do some of the things one typically does every day can be more than a bit challenging. Once found, those web-based applications, especially the bigger, more complex ones, tend to take a while to load and can be quite sluggish once running. This is only exacerbated when connected to a slower 3G network. Even email attachments become a burden, because there are no built-in viewers for common office file formats. (note the "Unknown file type" message in the tab image above). The best you can do is download the attachments, then re-upload them to Google docs so that you can open and view them. And you don't realize how much you'll miss copy and paste (beyond plain text) between applications until you don't have it.

Offline support is also not yet implemented in any of the applications I tried, including the Google apps, essentially bricking the device (which delivers rather humorous "this app is unavailable" messages) when connectivity to the site is lost. This could be a real problem on airplanes and other black holes with spotty connections.  

Much of this may be resolved in time with extensions and by reworking typical workflows around web-based solutions, but right now it can really feel quite tedious. As such, it's somewhat difficult to imagine a ChromeOS notebook/netbook as more than a casual, ultra-mobile device. It definitely leans more toward the productivity side than an iPad, but only approaches without quite apprehending a more robust operating system on a netbook/laptop. The potential to be much more is certainly there, but the finer points of implementation are yet to be developed.

ChromeOS - Will it Succeed?

That is the million dollar question. A great deal will depend on the as yet unannounced price, as well as how well Google manages expectations - something that they have not done well in the past, as evidenced by the Nexus One experience. If the device sells for about $200, I think it will be a no-brainer. An inexpensive device that provides an all out, relatively unlimited web experience will be quite appealing to an average user in that price range, especially if Google doesn't over-sell it or its capabilities. If the price approaches $300 and/or Google tries to sell it as the mobile productivity solution, they will likely find it be a lot harder to sell. It's still somewhat justifiable on the merits of the strategy above, but quite a hard sell just the same.

But if the price gets close to $400, the backlash will likely be more than even Google can overcome. The experience hardly warrants luxury pricing, and the use case will be extremely difficult to justify vs. any of the vast array of netbooks/small notebooks available for similar/less money. People are generally willing to jump through a few hoops if the cost vs. benefit analysis makes sense, but they are far less likely to do so when they can easily get more for less elsewhere, especially when you consider that a nearly identical experience can be had with the basic Chrome web browser installed on Windows, MacOS, or Linux. Google is cool, but not cool enough to win fanatical lunatics willing to hand over their wallets in exchange for the right to be cool, a la Apple.

If the price works out in favor of the end-user, then the only thing left will be execution. Based on what I've seen so far, I believe Google is on the right track. If ever there was a time when a move to to cloud-based computing was more plausible, I don't know of it. The market is ready, the tools are capable, and the developers are on board. All that remains is for Google to provide some leadership, direction, tools, and an open ecosystem that will enable developers to tie it all together to the benefit of all. 

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Posted by Jim Klein | 10 comment(s) | Share This

November 20, 2010

Galaxy Tab

I'm a gadget guy, as anyone who follows me knows, and as a gadget guy I have naturally been keeping up with the development of the Galaxy Tab from Samsung, which finally became available for purchase last week after a long build-up. It's a gorgeous 7 inch Android-based tablet device that, in my Goldilocksian view, is not too big, not too small, but just the right size. Perhaps best of all, it runs on an open platform, requires no “mother ship” to use, is available with 3G access on a variety of carriers, and has been widely reported as the first real contender to Apple's iPad (which is certainly not my favorite product – but that's another blog post.)

When the official Engadget review of the device was posted a few days prior to the Tab's release, I was all over it. A thorough breakdown of the pros and cons, plenty of pictures and media, all-in-all an excellent piece of reporting. And in the end, as I sat there watching the video on my netbook, reality set in: I still want one, I just don't want to pay for it. And by “pay” I mean more than just in dollars (although that certainly is a big factor).

Don't get me wrong here, I love Android on my Evo 4G. It's a fantastic phone that does everything I ever wanted my phone to do (well, for now at least). In short, it fills my needs for a ultra-mobile device. Put another way, it is an ideal solution that works well within the context for which it was designed, and the price/performance more than meets my expectations. Keep those two in mind as we move on: context for which it was designed, price/performance.

The Galaxy Tab and Apple's iPad are certainly beautiful devices. They exist in an ultra-portable space along-side netbooks, somewhere in-between mobile phones and full-size laptops/desktops. Many have suggested that they are harbingers of doom for netbooks (a fantasy that is simply unsupported by the numbers, by the way) due to their similar size, battery life, and certain assumptions about usage patterns. But as I watched the Galaxy Tab review and reflected on it and the inevitable comparisons to the iPad, one word kept coming to mind: hoops. As in, “how many hoops would I have to jump through to get this thing to do X” where “X” is some simple task that I do regularly on a netbook. Now, before you even say it, let's get the “comparing apples to oranges” argument out of the way – we all know that it would be silly to carry around a Tab/iPad and a netbook, so let's stop pretending that they don't fill the same relative space to justify our purchase, OK? OK.

So back to the hoops. As I said before, I love my Evo, but I wouldn't want to sit and work through more than a few emails or type anything lengthly (like this blog post) on it. Why? Because the email application kinda sucks compared to a full featured client on a netbook or laptop, and typing on a touch screen keyboard anything beyond a few sentences is a lousy, inefficient experience – an opinion that is widely shared and well proven, regardless of the size of the device. Great for the context in which it was designed to be used? Absolutely. But lousy for anything beyond that. Yet, I'm pleased because my expectations are in line with the context and I only paid a couple of hundred dollars for the thing. I'm not going to try to force it to work outside the context for which it was designed to meet heightened expectations brought on by a high price and/or hype and conjecture. The context for which it was designed is in line with the price, which sets reasonable expectations and leaves me happy with the result.

But for Tabs and Pads (let the feminine product slurs commence), our expectations are naturally heightened due to the high cost ($500-$900) and the hype surrounding them. We naturally assume that a larger screen is going to afford us greater capabilities and a wider range of flexibility, therefore the cost is justified. The problem is, the context for which the product was designed is not aligned with that assumption. Both products run the same software as their mobile counterparts, and were designed to be primarily devices of entertainment and consumption. But because our expectations, driven by price and marketing, are so great, we find ourselves willing to jump through a tremendous number of hoops in an effort to force these devices to do something outside the context for which they were designed. We put up with lousy keyboards and lame email applications. We buy “apps” to consume content that would otherwise be free if we only had a full featured web browser. We subject ourselves to endless work-arounds, often requiring two to three times as many steps to complete a task that we know we could do with half the pain with a full featured application, web browser, etc. In short, we poke ourselves in the eyes with sharp sticks because we so want this device to do more than it was ever designed to do; to meet heightened expectations brought on by high prices and marketing hyperbole.

iPadCase in point: I was speaking with a colleague of mine just the other day about this great app he wants to use on his iPad that would enable kids to do some digital storytelling really easily (he thinks). The way it works is you bring up your photo library and narrate as you flip through pictures. The iPad records your voice and the timing, and produces a movie that is ready to post in your blog. Sounds great, right? But lets look at what this will take. First question: how do we get the kids' pictures into the iPad? Oops. Well, I guess I could fill up my iPhoto library on my laptop/desktop with all the kids' pictures, sync to the iPad, and then pass it around to the kids to do their presentations. I couldn't do this all at once of course, because I would run out of space on the tiny iPad, so we'd have to do it in batches. Or we could post them online (from the desktop) then do screen grabs on the iPad, then import them into the app and make the video. Then, I have to figure out how to get the video back out and post it on the blog. Sure would be nice if I could go straight to the blog, but alas, the web browser in the iPad doesn't support the rich-text entry tools of the blog. Maybe I can find an app for that? And so it goes... sharp sticks. You see them every day in the twitterverse. “Does anyone know of an app that does layers like Photoshop for the iPad?” I know one, it's Photoshop, and I can use it or any of dozens of free/open-source applications on my netbook, which I purchased for half the cost. And the applications I run on the netbook will be full-featured, not some overly simplistic, “just the basics” tool that barely meets my needs.

Why would we subject ourselves to this? The most common answers: because it's cool! It's forward thinking! This is the way things will be in the future! What we're really saying is, “because it makes me look/feel cool – because it feeds my ego.” Think about it. How many times have you seen someone pull out their iPad in the dumbest place and say, “hey, have you seen the iPad?” or “look at this cool thing I can do on the iPad.” I've even seen guys try to use their iPads as a pickup line. How about those panels at education technology conferences where everyone is holding an iPad? Was that really the best investment of the school district's scarce dollars? What is a presenter trying to say/show about himself when he uses an iPad as a remote control for his presentation? "Look at me, I'm cool" perhaps?

Am I over-simplifying? Maybe. But how else would you describe paying twice as much (as a netbook) only to be able to do half as much? And I haven't even broached the subject of DRM, ownership, and vendor lock-in that Pad/Tab users are subjecting themselves to - I'll leave that to people like Cory Doctorow. In essence, you pay, and you get to keep paying. If you dare to leave, kiss all your stuff goodbye - you get to start over with nothing.

We need to stop kidding ourselves about these things. Tabs and Pads aren't designed to exist in the spaces we are trying to force them into. If they were, then the vast majority of apps designed for them wouldn't be games and content [more stats]. Lets stop playing games and get serious about transforming education with practical, flexible, reliable solutions, designed to operate within the context we seek, with the expectations we have, at a price we can afford. 

For more thoughts on Netbooks, Open-source, and Learning 2.0, see Netbooks and Open Source: Rethinking Laptops and Learning , When Do Laptops Become School Supplies , and Learning 2.0, Netbooks, and Open Source Resources

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Keywords: Galaxy Tab, iPad, iPad in Education, iPad in Schools, iPads in the Classroom, netbooks, Tablets in Education, Tablets in Schools, Tablets in the Classroom

Posted by Jim Klein | 4 comment(s) | Share This

May 28, 2010

We are pleased to present Where on Earth is SWATTEC? Inspired by Where is Matt (http://is.gd/ctCy5) this video presents the greatest teachers in the world and the students who's lives have been touched by the SWATTEC program. While pictures may paint words, videos inspire dreams. Enjoy!

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Posted by Jim Klein | 13 comment(s) | Share This

April 18, 2010

I received the following email on the California Education Technology Professionals Association (CETPA) listserve the other day:

----- Message from xxx@yyyy.zzz ---------
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2010 08:13:49 -0700
From: Tech Coord <xxx@yyyy.zzz>
Subject: [edtech] Interactive Boards
To: edtech@lists.cetpa-k12.org

In case you wonder about the hype and what can be done with interactive boards, check out what this math teacher does:


~Tech Coord

And I must confess, I lost it. My response:

From: CETPA [mailto:CETPA] On Behalf Of Jim Klein
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2010 10:04 AM
To: edtech@lists.cetpa-k12.org
Subject: Re: [edtech] Interactive Boards

Excellent proof that a great teacher will make excellent use of whatever tools you give them. You could give a great teacher a chainsaw and they would find a way to "carve out" a useful lesson with it. The real question is, what are the best tools for learning - not teaching. If it's an IWB, then I'm all for it. However, there is little evidence that this is the case (for those who would rush to Marzano, the study has been widely debunked as poorly constructed and designed to produce the results Promethean was looking for - see http://edinsanity.com/?s=marzano for further review).

I believe that the best learning tool for a student is a personal, connected device. For the cost of an IWB install, I can get 15 kids netbooks that will be far more powerful learning/production/creativity tools. I can buy the rest for the cost of response systems and doc cams added to that IWB. And I have no doubt, through direct experience, that personal devices offer the only real potential to transform the learning environment into the technology-rich, participatory space we all seek. The more access students have to technology, the more opportunities they have to learn/participate/grow.

The long and the short of it is if the teacher touches the technology more than the students, then it has little chance of transforming the learning environment. IWBs make teachers and administrators feel good about their technology use, but in most districts amount to little more than a photo op for district leaders when it comes to real, transformational change.

We need to stop using the phrase "teaching and learning" because that creates the perception that learning is all about delivery and reception, producers and consumers, and ultimately leads to the pursuit of delivery technologies such as this, which have no hope of producing any lasting improvement or change. Instead, we need to start using the phrase "participatory learning environments" where students take an active role in and responsibility for their own learning. If all we seek is to reform school, then by all means, improve content delivery using the same structures you already have in place. It's easy and uncontroversial. If, however, we seek transformation, then we must choose to take on that which is hard. To challenge habits and traditions. To take on socio-political structures that would seek to maintain the status quo. Only then will we see schools become relevant again. Only then will school once again be a place where students want to be, where they are excited to learn, and where they will develop the entrepreneurial, self reliant, creative skills that will lead them to success, no matter what their endeavor.

Jim Klein
Director Information Services & Technology LPIC1, CNA/CNE 4-6, RHCT/RHCE
Saugus Union School District

"Finis Origine Pendet"

Did I overreact? Probably. It was just a fun prank that had nothing to do with IWBs. But I couldn't help it. I've grown so weary of all the conjecture, unfounded claims, and hype over such an ineffective waste of money, especially in our current fiscal condition. If we really want to invest scarce technology dollars in the most impactful, transformative way possible, an IWB is the last thing to buy, not the first.

Credit to Gary Stager for effective use of chainsaws by teachers.

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Keywords: Interactive Whiteboards, IWBs, Teaching and Learning

Posted by Jim Klein | 104 comment(s) | Share This

April 13, 2010

As you may already be aware, the State of California has been holding ARRA EETT technology dollars hostage, in an attempt to take these funds and use them for other purposes in Sacramento. According to grant rules and guidelines, by accepting these funds from Washington the state agreed to disburse them in the same fashion as regular EETT Round 8 funds. However, after the entire competitive grant application process was complete and applications were submitted by hundreds of districts (at significant cost to those districts), the CA State Assembly Joint Legislative Budget Committee, led by Senator Denise Ducheny, blocked the disbursement of the funds and sought the advice of the Legislative Analyst's Office, in an effort to redirect them. The Legislative Analyst's Office 2010-11 Budget Recommendations completely ignore the federal guidelines. Districts across the state have been awaiting these funds to move forward with a number of education technology initiatives and to save jobs that will soon be lost as budgets continue to tighten.

To address this issue, a CA State Assembly Budget Subcommittee has been formed, which will be meeting this month on April 20 and April 27 to make a decision on this issue. This is where you come in. We are asking you to join the California Computer Using Educators (CUE), California Education Technology Professionals Association (CETPA), and and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) in a letter/email writing campaign to urge the subcommittee to disburse these funds quickly and according to the guidelines laid out by the federal government. I have included some sample letters/emails below. Please note: it is extremely important that the legislators receive your letters/emails by April 23rd, so don't delay.

These emails/letters should be sent to the following committee members:

It will also be helpful to send one to The Budget Committee Chairs:

Thank you for your support!


Sample Letters:

Assembly Member Wilmer Carter
State Capitol
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0062

April 8, 2010

Dear Assembly Member Carter,

I am writing to you request the immediately release the EETT/ARRA Federal Title II, Part D funds allocated to California schools.

The California Department of Education (CDE) issued requests for proposals (RFPs) in July of 2009 for school districts to competitively apply for grants to fund applications of technology based on local needs and to address the improvement of student learning and related teacher-professional development. The CDE received and reviewed 188 proposals and selected the qualifying projects that would collectively receive a total of $34,000,000 and had planned to notify districts that were approved for funding in November 2009. Additionally, 1,300 districts were eligible to be approved for EETT/ARRA formula funds totaling another $34,000,000. Finally, the state had allocated funds to the California Technology Assistance Projects (CTAP), the CTAP Portal known as MyCTAP, the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) and Statewide Technology Assistance Projects (SETSs) to provide support to the districts in implementing their EETT/ARRA projects and programs. However, none these programs and projects can be implemented because the California Legislature did not and still has not released the EETT/ARRA funds.

The CDE has clearly complied with the Federal Law in the planning and implementation of the EETT/ARRA funds. The excerpts from Federal guidance document for EETT/ARRA Federal Guidance Document make it clear how the EETT/ARRA funds can and cannot be used:

  1. The Ed Tech ARAA funds are subject to the same statutory and regulatory requirements as the Title II-D Ed, Tech funds made available under the regular FY 2009 appropriation and are also subject to specific ARRA accountability and reporting requirements.
  2. State may reserve up to 5 percent of its total FY 2009 Ed Tech allocation for State-level activities and must distribute the remaining amount (i.e., at least 95 percent of its total FY 2009 allocation) as follows: At least 50% up to a 100% Competitive Grants and up to 50% Formula Grants.
  3. A State may award Ed Tech formula grant funds only to LEAs that receive funds under Part A of Title I.

As of April 8, 2010, EETT funds are still on hold by the Legislature. There is mounting frustration on the part of superintendents, teachers, and principals in districts that applied for EETT/ARRA funding. They do not know if they can still plan on EETT/ARRA funding which was intended for district utilization by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Stimulus funding earmarked for education last summer.



Assembly Member Wilmer Carter
State Capitol
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0062

April 8, 2010

Dear Assembly Member Carter,

I am writing to you about the EETT C ARRA money for California schools that has not yet been released to the CDE. Here are highlights giving background:

  • The state was awarded $71M in funding that could be used for either competitive grant awards to school districts, OR 1/2 for competitive awards and 1/2 for grants to districts based on Title 1 formula.
  • The money is for Enhancing Education at the fourth to eighth grade level.
  • A State may reserve up to 5 percent of its total FY 2009 Ed Tech allocation for State-level activities and must distribute the remaining amount (i.e., at least 95 percent of its total FY 2009 allocation) as follows: At least 50% up to a 100% Competitive Grants and up to 50% Formula Grants.
  • The Ed Tech ARAA funds are subject to the same statutory and regulatory requirements as the Title II-D Ed, Tech funds made available under the regular FY 2009 appropriation and are also subject to specific ARRA accountability and reporting requirements.
  • A State may award Ed Tech formula grant funds only to LEAs that receive funds under Part A of Title I.
  • Districts have already sent in grant applications for the competitive money, and the CDE has graded them, they just haven’t released results due to the legislature not giving them funding authorization. This means that all the time and money expended was wasted.
  • The Legislative Analyst is recommending that the state divert the money to a student records system for Pre-K and High School work readiness. This is not in line with the goals of EETT or the statutory guidelines governing this money.

What I would like is:

  • To let you know that many educators and others involved in K-12 education technology are concerned that these funds have not been disbursed, and may be spent this in a way that wasn’t intended and does not follow federal guidelines;
  • Your vote on at the Budget Subcommittee #2 Education hearing on this matter to allocate the EETT funds as originally planned by the CDE and as it has been done in the past.

I urge you to make the right decision regarding these funds and vote to have them disbursed immediately, according the the rules and guidelines laid out by the federal government and the CDE. Failure to do so will cost school districts and essential state-wide technology support organizations jobs, deny our teachers critical technology training they desperately need, and will ultimately deny our students the valuable technology skills they will need to keep the state of California competitive in the 21st century.


Special thanks to Alice Mercer and Andrea Bennett (CETPA) for the (borrowed) text in the sample letters :)

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Keywords: ARRA, EETT, Funding, Grants

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April 06, 2010

As mentioned in my prior post, no netbook review would be complete without a look at what Lenovo has to offer. It took quite a while to get it, and once again my Lenovo rep urged me to look away from this line and toward the Thinkpad line (especially the X100e) due to lack of long term support. At first, I thought this was just marketing, but have come to discover from a number of districts in several states who have deployed anywhere from hundreds to thousands of older S10 models that they are finding Lenovo slow to respond to their service needs and say that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get parts for them, even for units that are less than one year old. Amazingly, my Lenovo rep, who had just returned from visiting a school district with more than 1000 units deployed, shared a similar story of that district's frustration with Lenovo service. I must say, I'm a bit surprised by (and appreciative of) such honesty from a company representative (don't get much of that these days) but I'm also mystified by what appears to be a company-wide strategy to push customers to a more expensive line through disservice. I can only assume it will backfire, as it has with us.

Just the same, the hardware is certainly worthy of a look, so on with the review!More ...

Keywords: Lenovo, Linux, Netbooks, S10-3

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March 26, 2010

It's hard to believe it's only been about 4 months since I did my last netbook review - so much has changed! It seems as though every vendor has upgraded their netbooks to the Intel Atom N450/470 "Pine View" chipset and significantly redesigned their line of netbooks. We've been tracking this very carefully, as we are within weeks of purchasing several hundred units, with more than 1000 to follow by summer (assuming the state releases the federal money we've been waiting on - but that's another story). 

One of the biggest issues we are facing, at present, is the lack of availability of netbooks with solid state (memory-based) storage. This was an important feature for us, as you will you recall from my prior review, as we want as few moving parts as possible, since moving parts are the ones that fail most often, especially in an environment where there is a high likelihood that they will experience deceleration-trauma/cement poisoning/etc. (ie get dropped.) Vendors, however, face competitive pressures from a rapidly growing market and therefore find themselves competing on specifications, for which hard drives are an inexpensive way to drive up their numbers. As such, none of the vendors who once offered solid-state storage appear to be offering it now, which has forced us to rethink our strategy. More ...

Keywords: Asus, Dell, EeePC, HP, Mini, Netbooks

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January 06, 2010

As I stressed in my prior post, if we are going to build effective learning environments, the thing we need to focus on is kids - not teachers, administrators, or even parents, but kids. And one of the most important things we must consider when building such environments is motivation, or more specifically, what motivates kids to learn.

Any study in human motivation will undoubtedly lead to Maslow's “Theory of Human Motivation”, which logically concludes that humans are essentially motivated by their needs. Knowing this, as well as how much the world has changed in the last decade, it might be tempting to assume that our students' needs have changed along with the world around them. But have they?

MaslowFor review, let's have another look at Maslow's theory and see what we can glean from it. According to Maslow, all human motivation is driven by a hierarchy of needs, which are typically represented in the form of a pyramid as in the figure to the right. The pyramid is functionally divided into two halves, with bottom half representing deficiency needs and the top half representing growth needs. While the growth needs are what we care most about as educators, it's important for us to understand the deficiency needs before we even talk about growth. 

The deficiency needs are what one might consider to be the obvious needs, with the bottom being the physiological - I need to eat, I need to sleep, etc. Once those physiological needs are met, then we are concerned about physical safety, followed by thoughts of love and belonging, and finally an interest in our self-esteem or sense of self worth. The important thing to remember is that these needs build on each other in such a way that the means to meet higher needs will not be sought until the lower needs are first met. A person will sacrifice their need for love/belonging, for example, if they feel physically threatened, and so on. The notion here is that the deficiency needs all have to be met before we can even start thinking about our growth needs. While schools are doing a pretty good job in these areas (although I have a particular beef with our obsessive over-emphasis on esteem, ie "everyone's a winner, noone's a loser"), we would be remiss if we didn't ask ourselves the tough questions: "Do my kids feel safe at school?", "Are they getting enough to eat?", "Do I create an environment where kids feel as though they belong?"

Once the deficiency needs are met, then an individual moves on to growth needs. In Maslow's original theory he only has one item above "esteem", and that is "self-actualization" or the desire for self-fulfillment and the ultimate reaching of one's potential. A deeper read into the matter, however, reveals that there are some important considerations that must be met on the road to self-actualization, and that there is an ultimate transcendent destination beyond it, which I have broken out in the chart above. He speaks of the cognitive needs - the need to learn, the need to know, the need to understand, and the need to explore. He uses the word "explore" or "exploration", which is something that I think we've lost much of today in education. Once one moves beyond the cognitive, they move towards aesthetics, such as recognizing beauty and the need for order and patterns. And only after that can one understand the nature of their abilities and endeavor to reach their true potential (self-actualization). But the ultimate goal, the one we should all be striving for, is that point where ego steps out of the way and we transcend to a level where we want to help others reach their potential.

Above all, the important detail to remember is that higher needs only gain focus when the lower needs are met, which means that a student's focus can be ever changing, depending on other influences in their life. It's hard to focus on math when you are worried about survival, but you are immensely interested in learning about survival. Likewise, the ultimate realization of a student's potential and consequential wisdom and transcendence will never be reached if we don't create environments where students fulfill their needs to know, understand, explore, and create.

But the interesting thing about all of this is that despite all the technology in their lives and all the changes in the world around them, kids' needs really haven't changed. They still need the same basic things. What has changed is the tools and influences around them that alter the mechanisms by which those needs are met...

More to follow in subsequent posts...

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December 05, 2009

Dell NetbookIn anticipation of the upcoming expansion of our SWATTEC program into 5th grade classrooms, we've been reviewing the latest netbook models from a variety of vendors. We've been quite happy with our Asus EeePC 901s in the 4th grade, however these models are no longer available. We would ordinarily be most likely to stick with one vendor, however the limited selection of options in Asus' current line, as well as a general disinterest in working with us from their sales team has lead us to review the offerings from other suppliers. As I know many districts are also presently looking at netbooks, I thought it might be useful to post our assessment of the models we have reviewed.

There are a number of things we look for in a netbook, beginning first and foremost with durability. More ...

Keywords: Netbook Review, Netbooks, SWATTEC

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November 22, 2009

toolsI'm a tech guy, as you have probably noticed, and as a tech guy I often find myself spending a lot of time talking about all sorts of great technologies, like social media and Web 2.0 tools, the latest hardware and gadgets, and how to use them to build online communities and develop collaborative practices in the education space. I attend and participate in a number of conferences and webinars on a regular basis, both as a presenter and attendee, and serve on a number of panels and implementation teams, all of which I believe to be valuable. But lately I have been struck by the fact that, even though everyone is gathering together to talk about education, we really aren't talking much about education. We're talking mostly about tools. Think about the last conference or webinar you attended - how much of the conversation revolved around tools and how to use them? I would bet the vast majority. While the geek in me really enjoys learning about what the hot new tool is and how I might make it work, I think as a whole we've jumped the shark on ed tech. Because when we think about ourselves as educators, what we do is not really about tools, is it? It's about kids. It's about helping kids to learn and grow, and to prepare them for the world they are about to enter.

kidsYet many of us seem to believe that if we can just get the right set of tools into the classroom we can solve all of education's problems. So we take out our whiteboards and replace them with super-whiteboards, and we swap out our overhead projectors for document cameras, and we sprinkle in some classroom responders, just for good measure. We do all this because we genuinely believe that it will make all the difference in the world, mostly because somebody told us that the reason kids aren't learning in the 21st century is because we aren't interesting enough. And I think that's wrong. I don't think that's right at all.

I think the problem that we're having is not that we haven't figured out the right set of tools, I think it's that we're not focusing on the right things. We're not taking a look at technology and it's role in the future of education and asking the right questions.

I was following along with a discussion panel this year at NECC (now ISTE) on social networking in education (which is a topic I often speak about) and panelist David Jakes posited what I believe is the right question. And it didn't have anything to do with social networking or web 2.0 or tools or technology. It was simply this: “What does it mean to be well educated in the 21st century?” I think that is the question we really need to start asking.

To answer that question, I believe we need to take a step back and look at how the world has changed all around us – step back and look at the world our kids are entering and consider what they will face when they get there. We need to look again at their needs, their motivations, and their influences and discover what drives them to learn and grow. Only when we do that, can we rightly challenge the assumptions we have used to build our education systems and consider what school in the 21st century should look like.

More to follow in subsequent posts...

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I've given a number of presentations lately around the general theme of "Rethinking Laptops and Learning". For those who haven't been able to attend (and even some of those that were) below is a compilation of links to related information and resources.

SaugusUSD SWATTEC Project: http://community.saugususd.org/swattec/page/
SaugusUSD Linux on Netbooks: http://community.saugususd.org/swattec/page/Linux+on+Netbooks
Saugus K12 Social Networking Resources: http://community.saugususd.org/jklein/page/Social+Networking
K12 Social Networking Presentation at Harvard: http://www.slideshare.net/jnetman1/k12-social-networking-harvard

Blog Posts and Commentary:
When do Laptops Become School Supplies? (Jim Klein) http://is.gd/3wWvq
Netbooks and Open-source: Rethinking Laptops and Learning? (Jim Klein): http://is.gd/4fCRU
Linux on Netbooks and Whiskers on Kittens (Karl Fisch) http://is.gd/3wWBf
Transitioning to 1:1 Netbook via BYOL (Wes Fryer) http://is.gd/3wWFY
The Value of Comment Moderation and Feedback... (Wes Fryer) http://is.gd/3wWIC
Quit Substituting Expensive EdTech Gadgets for the “Real Deal” (John Patten) http://is.gd/3wWKH

Key Open Source Projects:
The OpenDisc - http://www.theopendisc.com
Elgg Open Source Social Engine – http://elgg.org
Ubuntu Linux: http://www.ubuntu.com
iTalc Project - http://italc.sourceforge.net

K12 Open Source Resources:
CoSN K12 Open Technologies Initiative: http://k12opentech.org
K12OpenSource.com: http://www.k12opensource.com
K12OpenSource.org: http://www.k12opensource.org
Jim Klein's Open Source Pages: http://community.saugususd.org/jklein/page/Open+Technologies
K12 Open Source Help (Contractor): http://k12opensourcehelp.com

Great Netbooks for Linux:
Asus EeePC: http://eeepc.asus.com
Acer AspireOne: http://us.acer.com
Dell Mini: http://www.dell.com/home/netbooks

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November 13, 2009

On November 12, students in Ms. Gardner's 4th grade class at Rio Vista school had the wonderful opportunity to speak with a soldier in Iraq about being in the military and his experiences there. It was an excellent example of what happens when technology meets learning and enables new experiences in the classroom. Below is a brief (rough) clip from the day. You can also review some of the students' blog posts reflecting on the event at: http://students.saugususd.org/_weblog/everyone.php?filter=tag&filtervalue=iraq  . More student posts are sure to follow!

Students Skype with US Soldier in Iraq from Jim Klein on Vimeo.



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November 06, 2009

I was thrilled to hear from Tammy Parks at Howe Public Schools in Oklahoma that their teachers are beginning to spend some time with netbooks based on our open-source image from the SWATTEC program. It's been great to see the concept spread to other schools and districts across the country. I believe open-sourcing education technology implementation to be the most effective way to bring large-scale classroom innovation and lasting change to schools, and to drive student achievement into the 21st century.



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Keywords: Howe Public Schools, Netbooks, Open source, SWATTEC

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October 08, 2009

Ask any progressive educator the following question: "If you were to select just one tool to give to each student - one that you believe would have the greatest impact on their learning - what would it be?" Nine times out of ten the answer will be "a laptop." Sounds simple, right? And yet it's not. Why? Because, while we all recognize the potential of the technology to transform the learning environment, the implementation of individual student devices is fraught with complexity and impracticality. Those that have dared to tread down the path have been met with high costs, massive support requirements, and fragile hardware, all of which combine to create a toxic mix that, at best severely limits the technology's effectiveness in the classroom and, at worst leads to epic program failures that have been widely reported in the media. More ...

Keywords: 1:1, 21st Century Learning, FOSS, Free Software, Netbooks, one-to-one, Open Source

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